Thanks to the Sunshine State, Texas might have to wait for the Electoral College – or a concession speech – to find out who gets which Important Office in the Pink Building next year.
Gov. George W. Bush and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry had planned to move quickly if Bush won the presidency. They still do want to move quickly, but the definition of "won" has become fuzzy. The Bush folks want to be sure that when he steps down, there is another executive office – an Oval one – waiting for him. That won't be a certainty unless a win is handed to Bush by the folks in the Electoral College or something prompts Vice President Al Gore to finally concede the race.
The wait has frozen Texas government at a time when it is typically ready to jump into high gear. With the exception of the presidential race, the elections are over. Lawmakers have started filing bills. Trade groups are holding their pre-legislative conferences and lunches. The Capitol is starting to fill up with the migrant political workers who assemble every two years for the 140-day session.
All of that is on schedule. But none of the players knows who the governor will be, who the lieutenant governor will be, and importantly, who'll be on what Senate committees during the session.
Moving the governor out at mid-term was going to cause some political and governmental turbulence, no matter what. But the chain reaction of succession could have begun on November 8 with a clean, clear Bush victory. Most thought he would resign immediately. Perry would become governor. Senate President Pro Tempore Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would have 30 days to call senators together to select a new presiding officer. That new official would, in turn, name the chairs and members of the Senate's committees, and the upper chamber – and the rest of the folks in the Pink Building and outside – would be off to the races. Everything could have been wrapped up in plenty of time for the legislative session that begins on January 9.
Politicos looking to cement their gains wanted this wrapped up in time for one last set of fundraisers before the December 9 deadline. Delay could hit the new Lite Guv hardest. Lawmakers are prevented from raising money during a legislative session and during the 30 days that precede one. But officeholder accounts funded by political contributors have become a necessary part of business for lieutenant governors. They use them to supplement staff salaries and to cover the costs of their political operations. Waiting until early summer to raise funds as more than a mere senator could squeeze the winner's accounts. Now, in the worst case, what was supposed to take place starting three weeks ago could easily stretch into mid-January, depending on how quickly the presidential race really and truly ends.
At the end of October, when the conventional wisdom had Bush winning the popular vote nationwide but possibly losing the Electoral College, Republicans were floating the idea of lobbying electors – pushing those 538 folks to honor the popular vote over the majority votes in each of their own states. The reason for the delay is, instead, Florida, but the same calendar applies: presidential electors will meet on December 18 and have to vote by December 27. Congress officially counts their votes on January 6. Three days later, the 77th Texas Legislature convenes.
If, inexplicably, you're just not getting enough information about the legal goings-on in Florida, that state has put all of the filings from the election fight on the Internet. Go to their main courts site, then click on "Supreme Court Presidential Election Cases." There, you'll find every filing from the Republicans and the Democrats in that legal tussle.
Lite Guv: A Shift in Momentum?
A political lead can be as perishable as cabbage. After a few days on the rack, that crisp, green vegetable gets a little droopy and a little brown around the edges. The wait in the presidential race is having its effect on the race to replace Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, eroding the leader's strength and making candidates of a couple of senators who were dark horses just a few weeks ago.
Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, has run hardest for the post, and generally is thought to be in the lead position. But the waiting game is giving other contestants time to gain traction, and Sens. J.E. "Buster" Brown, R-Lake Jackson, and Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, appear at the moment to be the chief beneficiaries of that. Brown is appealing to Democrats because he has said he won't run for election to a full term in 2002, meaning the second-highest position in state government will be an open seat on the ballot. Wentworth hasn't said he won't run, but has said he would only do so if it looks like a winnable race. The Democratic Caucus is holding fire – members have agreed not to vote until after they've interviewed candidates – and the Republican Caucus had a meeting that spent very little time on the topic since Florida is up in the air and because so many members of the group want the job.
Sibley hit Election Day with a good deal of momentum; several senators told us at the time that he appeared close to wrapping it up. He remains the lead contender and probably still has a better-than-even chance of winning. But the pause in the presidential race has allowed others to eat into his lead.
An odd twist came up while we were talking with folks about the lieutenant governor's race. Brown is the Senate's water wizard and became a foil for candidates in the East Texas race for Sen. Drew Nixon's seat. The candidates for the Carthage Republican's post stirred supporters by saying they would fight to keep Houston and other cities from stealing East Texas water, and even pointed at Brown as the point man for the Houston interests. Brown's presence on the Lite Guv charts could affect the water fight. Nixon said he would want to settle that issue before he could support Brown, and others suggest that if Brown were elected, the water issue would lose one of its most informed advocates in the Legislature. If elected, a senator could still vote, but probably wouldn't sponsor bills.
Secretary of the Senate Betty King might not be leaving right away after all. She announced her retirement after 23 years in that post a couple of weeks ago, but the idea of a topsy-turvy session without her stabilizing influence has left some senators kind of freaked out.
Sens. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, and John Whitmire, D-Houston, sent out a memo asking their colleagues to keep King around for the session. Instead of electing her replacement, they suggest electing an assistant Senate secretary with the understanding that that person would take over when King leaves at the end of the session. King would be free to come and go, taking care of personal matters while schooling her replacement in the care and feeding of 31 senators. King was a little surprised by all that, but says she'll stick around if the Senate asks. The structure could change a little bit, with the Senate electing a secretary and King sticking around on a consulting contract. They'll work it all out on Monday. Senate dean Carlos Truan, D-Corpus Christi, has called a caucus meeting of the full Senate to vote on King's replacement and on the proposals to keep her close by.
Among the contestants for King's job: Patsy Spaw, the Senate's Enrolling and Engrossing Clerk; Myra Schmidt, who works for Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington, as director of the Senate Administration Committee; Julia Rathgeber, former head of Senate Research and now a director at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission; Donna Reynolds, vice president of the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce; and Tara Rejino, clerk of the Senate Redistricting Committee. Rejino's father, Paul Cowen, is chief of staff to Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.
Ruckuses in Caucuses
The 37-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus set about electing new officers and came up with a result that only a Floridian could love. One member – nobody seems to know exactly which one – didn't vote, and the caucus ended up in an 18-18 deadlock between Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who is the current chairman, and Rep. Vilma Luna, D-Corpus Christi. They voted again and got the same result. After some negotiation, each of those candidates agreed to drop out of the running, breaking the impasse and clearing the way for others to head the caucus.
They also decided to undo the elections of other officers, partly to allow those folks to run for chairman now that that race is wide open. That all means the whole process starts all over again when the group meets during the first week of the legislative session. Until then, they'll stick with the officers they have now, starting with Oliveira as chairman.
That's not the only caucus wriggling its way into conversations around the Capitol.
The House Republican Caucus is holding another confab on the first weekend of December, similar to one put together last spring to let members confer on everything from redistricting to volleyball. That one was held in the Hill Country to the west of Austin; this next one will be at the Hill Country Hyatt. Organizers say it will be big on fun stuff and thin on policy, although they do plan sessions on redistricting and on policy reports written by committees inside the group.
Most Republican members will attend, although there was a bit of tension over speaker politics before the election results were known. Some Republicans hoped and expected to get enough wins in various House races to get to parity or to a slight majority over the Democrats in the lower chamber. That talk prompted talk of a possible speaker race among some Republicans. And that, in turn, prompted the usual surges of gastric acids and forehead perspiration.
A few members said they didn't want to go the gathering if there was going to be a session forcing them to swear allegiance to a Republican speaker candidate. A few others didn't want to attend unless they were guaranteed there would be such a session. But Election Day came and went, and the partisan makeup of the House remained narrowly in Democratic hands. Bottom line: There won't be a session on who should be Speaker of the House, and the golf and shopping excursions account for more time on the agenda than all of the policy and redistricting stuff combined.
A Good Day for Third Parties in Texas
For all the noise made in some other states, the Green Party didn't do well in the top races on the ballot, but did draw significant support in statewide races the Democratic Party decided to skip.
By getting more than 5 percent of the vote in any statewide race, a party automatically wins a place on the ballot in the next elections. If they did nothing else, the Greens hit that mark. Their best showing was in the Texas Supreme Court, where Ben Levy pulled 9.7 percent of the vote against Nathan Hecht, the Republican incumbent. The next best showing for that party came in two Railroad Commission races, also against incumbent Republicans who didn't draw Democratic opponents. Gary Dugger and Charles Mauch each finished third in their respective races. Dugger got 7.3 percent against Charles Matthews. Mauch got 7.2 percent against Michael Williams. At the top of the ballot, the Greens came up comparatively empty. Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke got 2.2 percent of the presidential votes, while Douglas Sandage got 1.5 percent in the race for U.S. Senate.
The Libertarian Party consistently finished second in races with only one other major party, and third in races with both. That wasn't enough to win anything, or even threaten majorities in close races. Still, the Libertarians remain the strongest of the minor parties in Texas, fielding candidates in statewide, congressional, and legislative races and drawing some respectable numbers in some. They didn't get their 5 percent in the top two races, but picked it up further down the ballot. Their star, in percentage terms, was Lance Smith, who got 18.7 percent of the vote against Supreme Court Justice Al Gonzales. Libertarians Carolyn Fields and Anthony Garcia, each got over 15 percent of the vote in their respective races for Railroad Commission.
Poverty Numbers that Drive Budget Numbers
Rank U.S. counties by the number of people in poverty in 1997 (the latest available year) and Texas gets only one – Harris – into the top ten. It ranks fourth nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with an estimated 488,199 people living below the federal poverty level. That was about 15.2 percent of the county population at the time. Dallas came next among Texas counties, with 276,124 people living below that income line, or about 13.5 percent of the population. Dallas ranked 15th among U.S. counties. In the 16th slot: Bexar County, with 247,843 people in poverty, or 18.5 percent of the population. Hidalgo County (196,987; 37.6 percent) was in 19th place, and El Paso County (193,843; 27.8 percent) was 20th. Tarrant County (155,595; 11.5 percent) rounded out the national top 25.
The relative rankings are similar on a table that shows poverty levels among kids age 17 and under, but some of the percentages jump. Harris County was fourth in the U.S. in 1997, with an estimated 194,588 kids living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. That was about 20.9 percent of the population. In Dallas County, about 19.9 percent were under the poverty line; the county ranked 14th nationally on that measure. In Bexar County, at 16th, 26.4 percent of all children were under the line. In Hidalgo County, 47.9 percent were under the line, and in El Paso, 38.6 percent were below. Those counties ranked 19th and 20th nationally in the numbers of children living below the line. Tarrant County was 24th, with 16.8 percent of its children living in families with low incomes.
Those raw numbers and percentages from the Census Bureau are generated for Congress and state legislatures, which use them as a basis for spending and aid levels in several federal programs like school lunch and children's health insurance and welfare and other assistance plans. For instance, the report for 1997, just released, includes numbers and percentages of kids between the ages of 5 and 17 – that'd be school age youngsters – whose families have incomes below the poverty level. Harris County knows, by looking it up, that 121,983 of its school age children, or about 19 percent, come from families that meet the federal definition of impoverishment.
Statewide, 3.3 million of all Texans lived below the federal poverty line in 1997, or about 16.7 percent of the total. That put the state second, behind California, in national rankings – the same place it falls in rankings for total population. Some 23.6 percent of the state's children age 17 and under, about 1.35 million, lived under the poverty level. Of those, 423,953 were under the age of five.
Rank the counties by percentages of people living below the poverty line, and Starr County, Texas, comes in first in the U.S. According to the Census estimates, 46.7 percent of the people in that county live in poverty. Zavala County is fourth (two South Dakota counties are between the two) and three more Texas counties – Dimmit, Maverick, and Willacy – finish off the bottom ten. List all the counties in the U.S. by the percentage of children in poverty and seven Texas counties make the bottom ten. They are Starr (1), Zavala (2), Maverick (4), Brooks (5), Willacy (6), Real (8), and Dimmit (10). Presidio and Hidalgo Counties, ranked numbers 12 and 13, just missed. Finally, if you list U.S. counties by median household income levels, three Texas counties – Starr (2), Zavala (6), and Maverick (10) – made the bottom ten. The median household income in Starr County that year was $14,178.
On the other end of the spectrum, the highest ranking county in Texas – the one with the lowest percentage of families living under the poverty line – was Collin, where only 4.7 percent of the population was under the median income level in 1997. That was good enough to give the county a ranking of 40th in the nation. Denton County, right next door, was next on the Texas list (but 112th on the U.S. list) with a poverty rate of 6.1 percent.
Look at the high end of the median household income list, and there are your friends in Collin County again, this time with a ranking of 11th nationally and a median income level of $65,814. Rockwall County, with a median income of $57,397, was 43rd nationally, and Fort Bend County, at $55,164, ranked 61st in the country. Denton County, at $52,242, was the only other Texas county in the top 100 nationally. It ranked 93rd. Texas as a whole turned in a median income of $34,478 in 1997 and ranked 35th among the states.
Miscellaneous Politics and News
There was one more county to count when we went to press, but with two of three counties in the HD-5 race recounted, former Rep. Bill Hollowell wasn't picking up a significant number of votes. In Smith County, where voters using punch-card ballots voted 7,193-3,927 in favor of Rep. Bob Glaze, D-Gilmer, Hollowell only picked up three votes on a recount. Unfortunately for him, Glaze gained seven votes. In Van Zandt County, which went Hollowell's way on Election Night, he gained 40 votes in the recount while Glaze was gaining 29. With one county to go, Hollowell had picked up a net of seven votes, somewhat short of the original 2,080-vote margin. The cost to Hollowell? $2,700 and change.
• Department of Omens: The recount in a Travis County judicial race was held on the second floor of a downtown office building, above a clothing store called "Hit or Miss."
• Now that the elections are over, the elections can begin. Ed Garza, a San Antonio city councilman who has all but announced his bid for mayor against Tim Bannwolf, another city councilman, has hired a consulting team headed by Eddie Aldrete of Austin-based Aldrete Communications. The campaign manager will be Trish DeBerry of San Antonio-based Guerra DeBerry & Co. The two worked against each other in a South Texas House race last cycle (Aldrete had the winner, Rep. Ignacio Salinas, D-San Diego), but what the hey. James Aldrete of Message, Audience and Presentation will do media and mail in the race, and Jason Stanford of Stanford Research will pry. Both are based in Austin. Bannwolf is the only candidate who has announced so far, and others are still looking. The election is on Cinco de Mayo next year.
• U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, got 49.7 percent of the Latino vote in the November 7 elections, according to the San Antonio-based William C. Velásquez Institute. According to that research outfit, that's "the largest percentage of the Latino vote ever garnered by a non-Latino Republican" in a U.S. Senate race. The exit polling done by the institute showed Al Gore handily beating George W. Bush among Texas Latinos, and Republicans losing that vote in most congressional races. But Hutchison narrowly beat Democrat Gene Kelly, who got 48.6 percent of Latino votes.
• Texans for Lawsuit Reform sent out a letter touting their Election Day results, claiming wins in three of the four Senate races in which the group took an active interest, and in 23 of the 25 House races TLR had on their list. Their big win was in SD-3, where Republican Todd Staples, R-Palestine, trounced Democrat David Fisher of Silsbee. The irony is that many of the group's supporters were behind Staples' opponent in the primaries. Staples and his consultants welcomed the group's support while stiff-arming its efforts to get involved in managing the general election race. The group's other big venture in the Senate was against Sen. David Cain, D-Dallas, who fended off Republican Bob Deuell and the $500,000-plus that Deuell got from TLR. The tort reformers also touted their help in a race that got a Republican, David Gaultney, elected to the state's Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont.
• One reason so little has been happening in Austin: It seems like half of the politicos and lobbyists and union and association folk in Austin went to the Sunshine state to watch Floridians count votes and according to some reports, to eat chads. Among the folks who made the trek: Former Texas Secretary of State George Bayoud, lobbyist Buddy Jones, Sens. Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay, Reps. Kip Averitt and Tommy Merritt, Texas AFL-CIO official Emmett Shepherd, and scores of political consultants from both sides. As you might expect, the Texas contingent was heavily weighted towards Republicans. Averitt got a bonus: He was in the middle of a picture on one day's front page of The New York Times.
• Linda Edwards, press secretary to Gov. George W. Bush for three years, holding down the government office while he was out campaigning, is leaving. She'll give up the babies in the Austin press corps for the real thing, opting to spend more time with her seven-month-old daughter.
• This issue of Texas Weekly is reaching you at the wrong time of the week because of the Thanksgiving holiday. We went to press on Tuesday afternoon instead of our usual Thursday and made everything happen a couple of days early. We'll be back on the regular schedule next week.
Political People and Their Moves
Sen.-elect Todd Staples, R-Palestine, has started hiring folks for the session. Wil Galloway, who worked at the Texas Department of Agriculture under then-Commissioner Rick Perry and who lately worked for TechNet, a technology trade group, will be his chief of staff. Shannon Wickliffe, who has worked for Staples in the House for several years, will move to the Senate as his legislative assistant. And Jason Johnson, who worked on Staples' campaign from the very beginning, is coming along as the new senator's communications aide... Rhonda McCollough has left the Texas Education Agency, where she's been assistant commissioner for governmental relations for the last five years, to open her own consulting practice in Austin. At last check, she was waiting for election results to see what direction that would take. TEA has not named a replacement... Born to Kara Green and Rep. Rick Green, R-Dripping Springs: Kamryn Elaine Green... U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, got elected policy chairman (one of three co-chairs) of the 32-member Blue Dog Coalition, a group of self-styled conservative and moderate Democrats in the U.S. House. He succeeds a fellow Texan, U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, D-Abilene, in that post... Ron Schultz, who had been Conoco's Austin lobster, is off to a new job as vice president and general counsel of Dubai Petroleum Co. The company won't fill the Austin post, instead leaving Railroad Commission and other duties to Jamie Nielsen, an outside attorney... Spanked: Municipal Judge Joe Chandler of Trinity County, who got a "Public Warning" from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for not getting the judicial education his job required. In fact, the commission said he resigned from his post and got reappointed each year to avoid triggering a requirement that judges get to the classroom within a year after their appointments... Appointments: Gov. Bush tapped John Bridgman, a businessman from Wichita Falls to the board of regents at Midwestern State University. Bush named Arthur Emerson, who runs an advertising and public relations business in San Antonio, to the Texas Aerospace Commission... Lt. Gov. Rick Perry named four senators: Ken Armbrister, J.E. "Buster" Brown, Bill Ratliff, and David Sibley, to the Legislative Council. Sen. Chris Harris, will remain on that panel because of his position as chairman of the Senate Administration Committee. Perry chairs that panel, but the Senate is out-gunned: He and the five senators serve with House Speaker Pete Laney and ten House members.
Quotes of the Week
Former President George Bush, who went hunting after the elections to escape: "This is on everybody's mind, all around the world. But I have just stayed out of it. One reason I was glad to be in Spain with calm figures like (former Indiana University basketball coach) Bobby Knight shooting red-leg partridge was because I wanted to calm down and not be in the crossfire and not have an opinion or write an op-ed piece or comment on some chattering class on the television."
Ambassador and former Sen. George McGovern, a Democrat who lost to Richard Nixon in 1972, on the close presidential race: "It's going to be awfully had for the candidate who loses this time. For the rest of his life, he's going to think of a thousand ways he could have gotten a few more votes."
Microsoft founder and Chairman Bill Gates, on the presidential contest: "This last election was not the greatest example of using technology. It was kind of neat, though, to see what the TV anchors look like after staying up all night."
Texas First Lady Laura Bush, at the Texas Book Festival: "Though my plans at the moment are vague, I assure you that I'll never run for Senate in New York."
Sen.-elect Todd Staples, R-Palestine, who doesn't get a say in Senate business until he's sworn in next year, cutting his shot at helping pick a new lieutenant governor if Bush ultimately wins in Florida: "The longer the presidential thing plays out, the better my chances of voting."
Garland ISD official Roger Herrington, on plans to allow school districts to hire non-certified teachers under transitional permits: "I believe that higher pay, better benefits and working conditions can have a long-term impact on increasing the supply of teachers. But quite honestly, that idealistic rhetoric does not help me find that science teacher to start this coming January."
Texas Weekly: Volume 17, Issue 22, 27 November 2000. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2000 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.